Privacy SOS

If you see something, say – ‘Enough Already!’


Back in January 2007, battery powered LED ads for the animated television series Aqua Teen Hunger Force brought Boston to a halt. Subway service was interrupted, Route 93 and Storrow Drive were closed and the Longfellow and Boston University bridges over the Charles River were both blocked. 

Why did this happen? It seems that the Boston Police had mistakenly identified the blinking ads as improvised explosive devices.

You would think that such an experience would make the City of Boston averse to scaremongering tactics. But the Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign has crawled out of the subway and onto the Longfellow Bridge. Signs at either end of the bridge feature a deserted picnic table with a backpack nearby and this message: “If you see something, say something to local law enforcement to put it right.”

See ‘something’? Put ‘it right’? Such a vague exhortation seems to be mainly designed to keep our psyches in a state of fear.  And expect the drip-drip of fear messaging to pursue you throughout your day. 

The Department of Homeland Security is partnering with transportation agencies, the private sector, municipalities, universities, hotels and malls to instill “vigilance.” In the months and years ahead, if you are seen scribbling notes while waiting for a friend in a mall you could end up with a Suspicious Activity Report in a government database.  If you leave a cell phone behind in the food court you could be visited by the FBI.   Boston Bruins fans, beware: at the end of last year the DHS announced a new partnership with the National Hockey League. 

Meanwhile, the TSA has left airports and is deploying its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams on highways and bus stations, and recruiting truck drivers “into the First Observer Highway Security Program to say something if they see something.” The TSA has even searched people getting off trains.

By obediently submitting to the rules of the “vigilance” game we are transforming ourselves into the Land of the Terrified where mega funds flow into the outsized homeland security industrial complex. A decade after 9/11 isn’t it time we stood up and said ENOUGH?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.